Edward Gibbon reveals the reasons why he wrote on the Decline of the Roman Empire, “the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind” (1776)

After 20 years of work, Edward Gibbon finally completed his history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776. The final paragraph of that monumental work reads as follows:

Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that freedom was the “Grand and Indispensable Condition” for individual flourishing (1792)

In Chapter II “Of the Individual Man, and the Highest Ends of his Existence” William von Humboldt explains the connection between liberty and a variety of situations, and their connection to the flourishing of the individual:

Edward Gibbon believed that unless public liberty was defended by “intrepid and vigilant guardians” any constitution would degenerate into despotism (1776)

In Chapter III of the first volume of his magesterial history of the decline of Rome, Edward Gibbon reflects upon the Constitution of the Roman Empire in the Age of the Antonines:

David Ricardo considered taxation to be a “great evil” which hindered the accumulation of productive capital and reduced consumption (1817)

In Chapter VIII “On Taxes” on page 152, David Ricardo reflects on the impact of taxation and concludes:

Less well known is Thomas Jefferson’s First Draft of the Declaration of Independence in which he denounced the slave trade as an “execrable Commerce” and slavery itself as a “cruel war against nature itself” (1776)

Less well known than the official version of the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies is Thomas Jefferson’s first draft where Jeffeson makes the following points about slavery:

Herbert Spencer argued that in a militant type of society the state would become more centralised and administrative, as compulsory education clearly showed (1882)

Central to Herbert Spencer’s sociology of the state was the distinction between what he called militant types of society and industrial types of society. In the latter type of society he observed that administration by the state is either non-existent or extremely decentralized, as the following quote shows:

Herbert Spencer makes a distinction between the “militant type of society” based upon violence and the “industrial type of society” based upon peaceful economic activity (1882)

Central to Herbert Spencer’s sociology of the state was the distinction between what he called “militant” types of society and “industrial” types of society. In the former type of society he observed a close link between militant activities and economic protectionism as the following quote shows:

William Graham Sumner denounced America’s war against Spain and thought that “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery” would result in imperialsm (1898)

In a lecture given in 1898, the great American sociologist William Graham Sumner pondered the long term economic and constitutional consequences of the war against Spain:

Erasmus has the personification of Peace come down to earth to see with dismay how war ravages human societies (1521)

The personification of Peace visits Earth and sees with dismay how war ravages human societies. This is, of course, a thinly veiled critique by Erasmus of Europe in the early 16th century:

With the return of spring the memories of Petrarch’s beloved Laura awaken a new pang in him (late 14thC)

With the return of spring the memories of Petrarch’s beloved Laura awaken a new pang in him:

J.S. Mill denounced the legal subjection of women as “wrong in itself” and as “one of the chief hindrances to human improvement” (1869)

John Stuart Mill, the great 19th century English classical liberal, began his book on The Subjection of Women with the following unequivocal statement:

Montesquieu states that the Roman Empire fell because the costs of its military expansion introduced corruption and the loyalty of its soldiers was transferred from the City to its generals (1734)

Montesquieu argues that the military expansion of Rome led to its inevitable decline by introducing corruption and the transferring of the loyalty of its citizen soldiers from the city of Rome to their generals:

John Milton defends the right of freedom of the press and likens government censors to an “oligarchy” and a free press to a “flowery crop of knowledge” (1644)

In a pamphlet structured like a speech given before Parliament, the great English poet John Milton gave one of the most stirring defences of a free press ever penned:

John Milton believes men live under a “double tyranny” within (the tyranny of custom and passions) which makes them blind to the tyranny of government without (1649)

John Milton draws upon classical authorities and Christian writers to support his argument that the people have the right and duty to rise up in rebellion and overthrow a tyrant:

John Locke tells a “gentleman” how important reading and thinking is to a man of his station whose “proper calling” should be the service of his country (late 1600s)

John Locke begins his advice to a Gentleman on the importance of reading with the following thoughts:

Adam Smith argued that the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” was inherent in human nature and gave rise to things such as the division of labour (1776)

In his discussion of the division of labor, Adam Smith argues that the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange is part of human nature:

David Hume ponders why the many can be governed so easily by the few and concludes that both force and opinion play a role (1777)

In a collection of brilliant essays ranging over a number of disciplines, David Hume reflects on the key aspect of the state - why people obey:

Thomas Hodgskin noted in his journey through the northern German states that the burden of heavy taxation was no better than it had been under the conqueror Napoleon (1820)

A few years after the defeat of Napoleon, the English radical individualist Thomas Hodgskin toured northern Germany where he observed the economic, political, and social condition of the people:

William Emerson, in his oration to commemorate the Declaration of Independence, reminded his listeners of the “unconquerable sense of liberty” which Americans had (1802)

On the first anniversary of the public launch of the Online Library of Liberty, we took a look back at another anniversary. In this case, an oration given in Boston 1802 by William Emerson, the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, on the anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence:

Edmund Burke asks a key question of political theory: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (how is one to be defended against the very guardians who have been appointed to guard us?) (1756)

In a youthful essay, which may or may not be satirical, Edmund Burke criticizes all forms of government intervention, or what he calls “artificial society”:

In Joseph Addison’s play Cato, Cato is asked what it would take for him to be Caesar’s “friend” - his answer is that Caesar would have to first “disband his legions” and then “restore the commonwealth to liberty” (1713)

In Act II Scene II of Joseph Addison’s play, Decius, the Ambassador from Caesar, asks Cato what it would take for Cato to be Caesar’s “friend” as Caesar began using his military successes to pave the way to his political conquest of Rome:

James Bryce tries to explain to a European audience why “great men” are no longer elected to America’s highest public office (1888)

In a chapter entitled “Why Great Men Are Not Chosen Presidents” in his book The American Commonwealth, Viscount James Bryce explores this question at some length:

Andrew Fletcher believed that too many people were deceived by the “ancient terms and outwards forms” of their government but had in fact lost their ancient liberties (1698)

In a discourse about the dangers to liberty of standing armies, Andrew Fletcher makes an interesting point about how easily deluded people can become about the gradual loss of traditional liberties:

Thomas Hobbes sings a hymn of praise for Reason as “the pace”, scientific knowledge is “the way”, and the benefit of mankind is “the end” (1651)

In the first part called “Of Man” in his great work of political philosophy Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes explores the nature of speech and imagination, reason and science, virtue and manners, in an effort to establish the foundation of his theory of the laws of nature. Concerning science and reason he concludes:

Auberon Herbert discusses the “essence of government” when the veneer of elections are stripped away (1894)

Auberon Herbert argues in this essay written in 1894 that the true nature of government is the exercise of coercion and, once the veneer of elections and parliamentary oratory is stripped away, its purer essence is revealed: